March 21, 2023


Government Affairs News Digest

Hi {{recipient_first_name}},

I’m writing to share J Street’s statements and news updates.

In the wee hours of last night, the Netanyahu government passed a repeal of key portions of the 2005 Disengagement Law, in accordance with which the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had evacuated four Israeli settlements in the northern portion of the occupied West Bank (in addition to 21 settlements in Gaza). This is particularly significant for US-Israeli relations, since the action by Israel’s ultra right-wing government is a direct repudiation of a 2004 committment to the Untied States, as formalized in an exchange of letters between President George W. Bush and PM Sharon. Meanwhile and relatedly, the Netanyahu government has continued its push for judicial overhaul, as massive protests by Israelis continue. With the confluence of Ramadan, Passover, and Easter approaching, the Biden administration and regional governments are concerned about the possibility of a significant escalation in violence, with representatives of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan, and the US meeting in Sharm al-Sheikh over the weekend.

Please be sure to register for our in-person briefing this coming Monday, with prominent Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard and co-founder of Israeli veterans’ NGO Breaking the Silence Yehuda Shaul:

Netanyahu’s Far-Right Coalition & Implications for the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Monday, March 27, 11am Eastern
US Capitol Building, SVC 200-201
Please Register by COB on Friday, March 24

I hope you’ll continue to make use of our dossier on the Netanyahu government. As always, you can find our Congressional briefing book, background information on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, recordings of previous briefings and more at J Street’s Congressional Resource Page.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions.

All the best,

Debra Shushan, PhD
Director of Policy, J Street
mobile: (757) 746-0366 | [email protected] | @DrShushan

This week on j street




Read more →

What we’re reading

Israel repeals 2005 act on West Bank settlement pullout

Israeli lawmakers on Tuesday repealed a 2005 act that saw four Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank dismantled at the same time as Israeli forces withdrew from the Gaza Strip. The development could pave the way for an official return to the abandoned West Bank areas in another setback to Palestinian hopes for statehood… The move drew a sharp rebuke from Israel’s closest ally, the United States. Most of the international community considers settlements illegal and opposes construction on occupied territories claimed by the Palestinians for a future independent state. The State Department said it was “extremely troubled” and urged Israel to refrain from allowing settlers to return to the outposts. “Coming at a time of heightened tensions, the legislative changes announced today are provocative and counterproductive to efforts to restore some measures of calm,” said State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel… Israel evacuated the four settlements and unilaterally pulled out of Gaza under the 2005 legislation. The prime minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, argued that Israel would not be able to keep the settlements under a future agreement with the Palestinians. Since then, Israeli citizens have been officially banned from returning to those locations, though the Israeli military has allowed activists to visit and pray there — a ban that has now been revoked.
read more

Israeli Leaders Advance Key Part of Judicial Overhaul but Delay Rest

Israel’s government announced on Monday that it would attempt to enact by early April the most contentious part of its effort to overhaul the country’s judiciary — a change to the way that judges are appointed — while postponing the implementation of other parts of the plan by at least a month… As a concession to critics, the Israeli government said it had modified the planned overhaul of judicial selections to include a provision that would prevent more than two Supreme Court justices from being appointed during each parliamentary term without the support of at least one opposition lawmaker on the committee. All judicial appointments to lower courts would also need the backing of at least one opposition lawmaker or judge on the committee. The governing coalition also said that it would delay other parts of the program, including a proposal to limit the court’s oversight over Parliament, until at least late April. Government lawmakers presented the changes as major concessions… But opposition leaders and protest organizers said that the new proposals would still give the government too much control over a court that is currently one of the few curbs on government overreach. Critics say that the changes would allow the government of the day to act with too few restraints on its power, endangering minority rights, and perhaps even pave the way for a more authoritarian and religious system of governance.
read more

Biden warns Israeli leader on judicial changes

President Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a phone call on Sunday that democratic values — including “genuine checks and balances” — had to remain a pillar of the U.S.-Israel relationship, a veiled warning to Netanyahu about his incendiary plan to overhaul the country’s judicial system. During the phone call between the two leaders, Biden expressed “concern” about Netanyahu’s plan in a “candid and constructive conversation” that lasted about 45 minutes, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a diplomatically sensitive conversation… Biden also backed the political talks now being held in Israel to find a path forward on Netanyahu’s desired overhaul. “The president offered support for efforts underway to forge a compromise on proposed judicial reforms consistent with those core principles,” the White House said… The call with Netanyahu came as U.S. officials, along with Egyptian and Jordanian government officials, helped broker meetings between Israeli and Palestinian political and security officials in an effort to defuse tensions ahead of Ramadan, which also overlaps with Passover and Easter this year.
read more

Amid Violence, Israeli and Palestinian Officials Meet to Promote Calm

Israeli and Palestinian officials met in Egypt on Sunday, along with other Middle Eastern and United States representatives, in an effort to lower tensions and the potential for violent conflict during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts this week. The meeting in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheikh came amid fears that this Ramadan could be a particularly violent time, after the deadliest start to a year in more than two decades for Palestinians and Israelis… The broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not on the table at Sharm el Sheikh. Peace talks have been stalled for nearly a decade, and Israel’s right-wing government includes far-right parties that reject any such dialogue and aspire to annex all of the occupied West Bank… According to a statement released by the Egyptian foreign ministry after the meeting, the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships agreed to try to de-escalate tensions and uphold existing agreements and understandings between the two sides — including Palestinian autonomy in parts of the West Bank and a delicate arrangement about access to and worshiping rights at a contested holy site in Jerusalem. The statement also said that Israel had agreed to delay any discussion about settlement construction in the West Bank for four months and to postpone for six months any retroactive authorization of settlements built without government permission… But few expected the statement to be carried out in full. Its wording was very close to an earlier statement, released after the Jordan conference, which had little effect on the ground; violence on both sides continued to rise, as did Israeli incursions into Palestinian areas.
read more

U.S. State Department Report Calls Out Israel’s Human Rights Abuses

The U.S. State Department’s annual report on human rights records across the globe took aim at Israel’s respect for civil liberties, restrictions on Palestinians and investigations of security forces for abuses – noting “several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.” “The Israeli military and civilian justice systems have rarely found members of the security forces to have committed abuses,” the report states… “NGOs, including Military Court Watch, HaMoked, and B’Tselem, accused authorities of using isolation to punish or silence politically prominent Palestinian detainees,” the report says. The report further warns of substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and association, stating Israel “generally respected these rights except for Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, for whom the government limited and restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association,” citing reports of excessive police force at various protests, funerals and demonstrations over the year. The report flags Israel’s posture toward human rights NGOs, who claim that “Israeli authorities cited laws against terrorism or protecting national security to arrest or punish critics of the government or deter criticism of government policies or officials”… Regarding the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the report points to various issues – namely unlawful or arbitrary killings, torture and arrest, unlawful interference with privacy, restrictions on freedom of expression, threats against journalists, corruption, restrictions on internet freedom, child labor, gender-based violence, violence motivated by antisemitism and crimes targeting LGBTQI persons.
read more

Israeli Ambassador to Jordan Summoned After Top Minister Showcases Map of ‘Greater Israel’

The Israeli Ambassador to Amman was summoned by Jordan on Monday after Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich used a map of greater Israel portraying Jordan as part of the Jewish state’s territory, during a talk in Paris over the weekend. Jordan’s Foreign Ministry condemned Smotrich’s “extremist, inflammatory [and] racist statements,” on Palestinians earlier on Monday, saying that his actions constituted “an act of reckless incitement [as well as] a violation of international norms and the peace agreement” between Israel and Jordan, Jordanian Foreign Ministry spokesman Sinan Almajali wrote in a statement, adding that his country “will take all the necessary political and legal measures to deal with extreme behavior and statements.” The ministry called on the international community to condemn Smotrich’s “extreme and aggressive actions and statements” and demanded that Israel “take a frank and clear stand against these extremist behaviors” which could lead to “a dangerous escalation that threatens security and stability”… Speaking at a memorial ceremony for the late Likud activist Jacques Kupfer in Paris on Sunday, Smotrich claimed that the Palestinian people are a fictitious nation invented only to fight the Zionist movement, stating that “there’s no such thing as Palestinians because there’s no such thing as a Palestinian people”… EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters in Brussels that Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s comments “certainly cannot be tolerated”. “I call on the Israeli government to disavow those comments and to start working together with all parties to defuse tensions,” Borrell said.
read more

Revenge Attacks by Israeli Settlers Follow in Wake of Hawara Shooting

Israeli settlers punctured the tires of 25 Palestinian cars and spray-painted “Price Tag” on a nearby wall in the town of Salfit in the West Bank, the Yesh Din organization reported. A Palestinian woman whose car was vandalized told Haaretz that the settlers arrived from the Nof Avi farm, outside the northern entrance to Salfit. “There was a truck loaded with gas canisters among the vehicles, it is lucky they didn’t cause an explosion,” she said. “The situation is terrifying and unbearable. What is most concerning is that everyone knows what is happening but no one will do anything about it.” The ‘price tag’ attack follows in the wake of Sunday’s shooting attack in the West Bank town of Hawara in which an Israeli American man in his 30s was seriously wounded after his car was shot at. Another passenger who was with him, identified as a family member, was not hurt but was treated for shock. The Israel Defense Forces are treating the incident as a terrorist attack and apprehended the assailant shortly afterward. IDF sources believe that the shooter arrived on foot with a makeshift gun, fired on the Israeli vehicle and then fled the scene… In a separate incident revealed on Monday, IDF soldiers were filmed vandalizing a truck belonging to a Palestinian. Last Wednesday, soldiers from the 931 Nahal battalion arrived in the village of Na’alin. According to the footage and testimony by other soldiers, a group of soldiers smashed the truck windows, slashed the tires and tore up the truck’s seats and dashboard.
read more